Hollis Brown: Straight Outta Ozone Park

The white hot Queens, NY band puts the roll back into rock ‘n’ roll with their new album, Ozone Park

Hollis Brown

Hollis Brown plays rock & roll, and they’re proud of it.

“Most bands today are rock bands,” says lead singer and songwriter Mike Montali. “We’re a rock & roll band. Rock bands have taken the ‘roll’ out of rock & roll. Roll has a swagger to it, a bit of sexuality, a bit of a threat. That’s the feel that makes great bands great. A lot of rock bands today don’t have the seductive quality of good rock & roll. They’re not aggressive. All my favorite bands were combustible. If you look at the Ramones, The Who, Oasis, they had an artifice. They stood apart. We want to be in that lineage.”

The band is as good as its word. On their new album, Ozone Park, they deliver ten concise slabs of hard rocking and rolling music. The songs are short, sharp shots of focused excitement with expansive arrangements. The striking guitars of “Do Me Right” are underscored by a reggae backbeat; “Go For It” is a Motown flavored rocker with swooning harmonies; “Stubborn Man” is funky and seductive, driven by chattering James Brown guitar rhythms and “Someday Soon” suggests the heartfelt folk rock of the late 60s. “We like to put a bit of everything into our music,” Montali says. “It all goes back to growing up in Queens, New York. It’s a real melting pot of food, culture and music. We heard soul, funk, Motown, hip-hop, folk – all kinds of music and we want to do it all, but with a rock & roll edge.”

The band came together about ten years ago, in a garage in Ozone Park in Queens, New York. “Me and [lead guitarist] Jonathan [Bonilla] went to high school together. After graduation, we started jamming and writing songs. After two years, we found some like-minded people and began playing clubs in the city, stretching out a bit to Philadelphia and DC. We’re on the road, touring constantly, and although money’s tight, we’re addicted to the music.”

Hollis Brown Ozone Park, Goner 2019

Ozone Park is the group’s third album and their most concise. There are no guitar solos or extended jams, just terse, to-the-point songs, bristling with hooks, catchy melodies and a hint of danger. “We made every note count,” Montali says. “Live, there’s a lot of soloing. We wanted the record to be clean and modern. There are some synth pads and keyboard effects, but everything is written out. It’s not loosey-goosey. We wanted a short record, like an early Beatles album. A record you listen to and want to play back, the minute it’s over. Something you play in your car and turn up when you’re driving down the highway.

“Before we made this album, we took time off from touring and went back to the garage. We hung out and wrote music together in each other’s living rooms. We wanted to get away from the vintage, throwback sounds of our first two albums. (Ride on the Train, 2013; 3 Shots, 2015) We wanted to make something unique, exciting and fresh – something that sounds like us. We cut it with producer Adam Landry (Deer Tick, Rayland Baxter, Nikki Lane, Vanessa Carlton), at a studio in Fort Myers, Florida. It’s mostly live, maybe a few overdubs, but most of it was quick and primitive. We wanted to nail it in a few takes, not water it down too much.

“We played some of these songs live for a couple of years, but most of ‘em were written for the album. Jon and me write till we get something we like, then we make a demo with acoustic guitar and vocals. We send it around to the other guys in the band – Andrew Zehnal on drums; Adam Bock on keyboards; Chris Urriola on bass – then get in a room and play it. We all add an outro here, or a bridge there, till it sounds like Hollis Brown. Everybody incorporates themselves into every tune. That’s why we all get writing credit on every song. When we took it to the studio, Adam would say, ‘Lets add a chord here or an extra beat there.’ They’re always evolving, even after we play ‘em live. The written parts come from me and Jon, but after that, it’s the group process that turns it into a song.”

 

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j. poet

j. poet has been writing about music for most of his adult life. He has contributed to the San Francisco Chronicle, East Bay Express, Harp, Paste, Grammy.com, PlanetOut.com, American Profile, Creem, Relix, Downbeat, Folk Roots, New Noise and more national and international publications and websites than he can remember. He wrote most of the Musichound Guide to World Music (Visible Ink, 2000) and had two stories in Best Rock Writing 2014 (That Devil Music). He has interviewed a wide spectrum of artists including Leonard Cohen, Merle Haggard and Godzilla. He lives in San Francisco. 

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